Monday, January 21, 2013

House Will Vote On Clean Debt Limit Bill on Wednesday

The House is going to raise the debt limit on Wednesday but will not actually be voting for a debt limit increase. Rather, to spare their poor members the embarrassment of actually having to raise the debt limit, the language of the bill will suspend the debt limit law until May 19, 2013, on which date the new debt limit will be whatever debt has accumulated between now and then.

When the bill is enacted, there will be no limit on how much debt can be issued until May 19. On that day, there will be a new, higher, limit in place. That new limit will include all the debt issued between now and May. It will also include the debt that will have been issued to cover the debt that has been deferred since January 1 through the "extraordinary measures" that were used by the Treasury to avoid default.

Putting aside the cowardice of the Republicans in their refusal to actually vote on a debt limit increase that has a big number in it, this is great news. This vindicates the President's determination to not negotiate with those who would hold America hostage, those who would jeopardize payments to Social Security recipients, those who would jeopardize the full faith and credit of United States debt in the world bond markets, those who are so irresponsible that they cannot accept their basic obligations as members of United States Congress.

This debt limit suspension bill does not include anything else except what is hoped to be a cudgel to be used on the members of Congress themselves. The bill provides that if by April 15 both the House and the Senate have not agreed on a joint budget resolution, then all pay of the members of the House and Senate will be held in escrow until such time as they agreed to a budget resolution. Interestingly, April 15 is the date that both Houses are supposed to agree to a joint budget resolution under the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974.

By actually providing for payments of salaries to be made, but for them to be paid into an escrow account rather than distributed to members of Congress, the bill is designed to avoid the Constitutional prohibition against "varying" the salaries of the members of Congress during the term for which they were elected.

The interesting thing about it is that, to the extent it actually places pressure on members of Congress, it will have much less impact on the members of the Senate who by far are richer and much more able to live very comfortably without their Congressional salaries. It is also somewhat amusing that, once again, the Republicans think a ploy needs to be adopted to force the Members of Congress, including their own, to do their jobs.


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